How to be a successful innovator

Let’s say you have some obscure list of career goals for the year and one of those is to be a champion of innovation. I’m sure many of you reading this have probably run across goals like this before. I see a lot of people struggle with larger companies and syncing with what the management has implemented as employee goals.

One such example may be “80% positive customer feedback” or if you’re from Microsoft you may have seen this goal translated as “80% top box on customer surveys”. Top box meaning the highest level of satisfaction on the survey. This goal is simple to understand and is easily measured. But what about innovation?

Before you can be a successful innovator you have to understand what innovation is; so, what is it? Let’s compare a couple examples and you tell me which is innovative:

  1. Upgrading existing processes to use a new feature of SQL Server, which improved overall performance and stability.
  2. Architecting a completely new application for a project that the company has never done before.
  3. Created a new training course that the company can offer.

Is the first innovation?
Is the second innovation?
Is the third innovation?

How have you approached this goal before? I see most people gravitate towards the second and third examples; but, are they an example of innovation?

What is innovation?
A lot of people seem to be confused on this word. I’d start to define it through comparison. Invention is often confused with innovation; so, let’s see how these two compare:

‘In its purest sense, “invention” can be defined as the creation of a product or introduction of a process for the first time. “Innovation,” on the other hand, occurs if someone improves on or makes a significant contribution to an existing product, process or service.’
-Tom Grasty  (mediashift.org)

Now that we’ve defined innovation, go back and look at examples 1 to 3 and tell me which is the best example of innovation.
Now ask yourself why example 1 is a great example of innovation vs 2 & 3? What value does this bring the company? We already have a process. Is improving it really better than creating a whole new SKU?
Think about this. If the process you’re improving is a tried and true performer and already has a lot of value in the organization then you’ve just scored a big win! Now think about something new that is untested and may not be successful at all. It’s a risk and the time and effort you put forth isn’t proven. Which of these brings more value? Which should you be focused on when working towards an innovation career goal?

I hope that this quick article helps you navigate those pesky yearly goals and brings you success!

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